Football / World Cup File: Norway prepare a lesson for teachers: Olsen leads the new Scandinavian force in search of a win at Wembley. Henry Winter reports

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THE DAY has passed when the prospect of Norway winning in England was as likely as Paul Gascoigne working in Norwegian television. Since Egil Olsen took over as coach two years ago, Norway have upset Italy and the Netherlands and believe they can register their first victory in England tomorrow night.

'We know we can beat anybody,' Olsen said at his HQ in Hertfordshire yesterday. 'We are very good defensively. We are organised, disciplined, and are scoring goals. The pressure is greater on England than us.'

The minnows have certainly matured. Before the arrival of Olsen, who dabbled in radical student politics before winning 16 caps as a maverick striker, his country had seen little success. The highlights came during the 1930s. Norway's amateurs incensed Adolf Hilter in 1936 by humiliating the hosts at the Berlin Olympics on their way to an unexpected bronze medal. The dictator stormed out in anger. Two years later, in Marseilles, Norway played their only game in the World Cup finals when they took Italy to extra time before losing the knock-out tie.

Until that famous night in 1981 when the names of Lord Nelson and Margaret Thatcher filled Oslo's airwaves after Ron Greenwood's team had lost 2-1, Norway had often struggled against England. Goals flowed for Tommy Lawton in the 1930s, Tom Finney in the 1940s and Jimmy Greaves (with four in one match) in the 1960s.

Throughout, the four million people of that fjord-riven strip of land that clings to Sweden were fascinated by the English game. 'What we have learned about football we learned from England,' Olsen said. Television brings the game into their homes, while planes carry hundreds to see matches every Saturday. 'We are inspired by England,' Olsen said.

'I can't understand it,' said Rune Bratseth, the Werder Bremen sweeper who is Olsen's invaluable captain. 'Some Norwegian fans want England to win against us because they want to see England play in the World Cup.'

The rest are obsessed with beating the country where their favourites play. Olsen, a wiry, greying 50-year-old, acknowleges the debt across the North Sea but is too canny to be over-influenced by English principles. Norway's current success (top of Group Two with wins over the Dutch and San Marino twice) is rooted in Olsen's obsession with meticulous analysis of his players and opponents and his welding of the strengths of the English game, like discipline and organisation, to Continental technique.

England's abortive attempt to play the foreigners at their own game in the summer's European Championships amazed him. 'It was unbelievable that England should play with a sweeper,' he said. 'They should stick to their strengths.' He is expecting a more traditional England approach at Wembley. 'It will be fast forward and high pressure,' Olsen said.

Forty-eight hours before a vital international, Olsen might be forgiven a touch of kidology, but it does seem that Norway prosper against teams who hold the ball and build slowly. 'Holland and Italy had most of the possession but built gradually, which was good for us,' Bratseth said. With a 4-5-1 formation, Norway can contain and then counter-attack.

Despite the status of individuals like Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright in Norway, Olsen and his players appear unconcerned. 'Shearer and Wright are good forwards, but I don't think they are very much better than (Marco) Van Basten and (Dennis) Bergkamp,' Olsen said.

He was diplomatic about Gascoigne's four-letter greeting to Norway. 'I guess that's how Gazza is,' Olsen said, 'but we don't feel insulted.' He then - unintentionally - got his own back: 'Gazza has unique qualities but he too has weaknesses. I don't think he's very important to England's chances of qualifying.'

Olsen was more concerned with Bratseth, still struggling to shake off a hamstring strain. 'Over the past two years he has been by far our best player. It's very important psychologically that he plays.' Bratseth had few doubts that he would be ready for a 46th cap, but Olsen was taking no chances and drafted in Arsenal's Paal Lydersen as cover. A Norway without Bratseth would be a much weaker proposition.

Bratseth, 32, brings experience and composure to a flat back four which relies on zonal marking to protect Erik Thorstvedt, the Tottenham goalkeeper who earns his 74th cap tomorrow. Beside Bratseth are three promising defenders all in their early 20s: Roger Nilsen, of Viking, IFK Goteborg's Tore Pedersen, and Stig Bjornebye, of Rosenborg.

Oldham Athletic's Gunnar Halle is a familiar figure in midfield where Erik Mykland, of Start, and Lierse's Kjetil Rekdal, who scored in the 2-1 win over the Dutch, will instigate Norway's breaks upfield. Rosenborg's Kare Ingebrigtsen and Goran Sorloth should also feature while Jahn Jakobsen can cause problems in the box. Against the Netherlands in Olso last month, a run by Jakobsen was ended with a trip by Ajax's Danny Blind, giving Rekdal his penalty chance. Jakobsen is keen to move from Young Boys Berne to an English club and will welcome tomorrow's exposure.

With 7,000 visiting fans expected, Norwegian surges will be noisily received at Wembley. Norway's great leap forward under Olsen faces its toughest test.

(Photograph omitted)

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